The Third Daughter | Eileen O’Mara Walsh Memoir

This Eileen O’Mara Walsh Memoir — The Third Daughter : A Retrospective — is an intimate and conversational account of the personal and professional life of one of Ireland’s best-known business women.

O’Mara Walsh’s achievements include stints chairing the board of Great Southern Hotels (1984-1999) and the Irish state agency Forbairt (1993-1998) as well as founding the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation in the mid-1980s.

Born in Limerick in the early 1940s, O’Mara Walsh was the daughter of a War of Independence verteran, Power O’Mara and his English socialist wife, Joan Follwell.

Follwell, who features strongly in the early chapters of The Third Daughter, was a protegée of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell and would have a lasting influence on her daughter’s life:

“When I think of my parents, my mother always comes first to mind and is still a constant commentator, mentor and arbiter against whose taste, judgment, beliefs and prejudices I measure both myself and the world around me.”

Power O’Mara, the son of an operatic tenor, came from a wealthy merchant family in Limerick but the family’s wealth had diminished and, in 1953, he moved the family from Limerick to Dublin.

In the 1950s, Dublin was home to a cast of colourful characters such as the writer Brendan Behan, poet Patrick Kavanagh and artist Seán O’Sullivan. O’Mara Walsh’s memoir shows how she encountered them all — and many others — in the city pubs. Her lifestyle was bohemian and she enjoyed remarkable freedom as a young girl and developed an affinity for the arts that would remain with her throughout her life.

Love interests

At 18, she moved to London to work and subsequently lived in Paris. There she recounts details of her love interests including a significant relationship with the French artist, Pierre Catzeflis.

But for all that her personal life was colourful, it is her business life that produces some of the best anecdotes in this O’Mara Walsh memoir. For example, she tells how shortly after she established her company, O’Mara Travel, a French travel agent asked her to put together the itinerary for a garden tour in Ireland. It transpired that the tour was for the Garden Club of Monaco and included in the party was none other than Princess Grace. O’Mara Walsh recounts an hilarious anecdote about some formally attired dignitaries gatecrashing an informal evening of Irish music and dinner attended by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace at the Abbey Tavern in Howth.

Politicians too make an appearance among the colourful cast. Charles Haughey turns up in Chapter 24 along with Ruari Quinn and Des O’Malley but it’s an HR executive from one of the large accountancy firms who provoked the sharpest response.  O’Mara Walsh — then Board Chairman of Great Southern Hotels — had engaged the firm to hire a Chief Executive and the HR executive made the mistake of calling her ‘love’

“You may call me Eileen, Ms O’ Mara Walsh or even Madam Chairman, but never again address me by ‘love’.

Throughout her adult life, O’Mara Walsh’s most significant personal relationship was with the Irish artist Owen Walsh with whom she had a son. Although their relationship ended, they remained close and she writes movingly of caring for him in the weeks leading up to his death in June 2002. The memoir closes with his passing.

The Third Daughter : A Retrospective by Eileen O’Mara Walsh is published by Lilliput Press. [Disclosure: a copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.]

Brian Lenihan Biography — In Calm and Crisis

This Brian Lenihan biography is more a series of reflections and memories than a biography in the true sense of that word. Although some criticised Lenihan’s decisions as Ireland’s Finance Minister, his dignity won widespread respect.

For the most part this collection of essays reflects that admiration. The essayists are by Lenihan’s former colleagues. Family and friends recall personal, political and professional aspects of his life and career, particularly his final years.

Lenihan became Finance Minister at a time of intense difficulty for the Irish economy. He faced extraordinary pressures compounded by personal difficulties when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Questions from that period remain.  Although the recollections in this biography provide interesting insights, essentially, this is a collection of personal tributes.

Contributors to this Brian Lenihan biography

There are brief contributions by Jim Flaherty, Former Canadian Finance Minister and Christine Lagarde, former French Finance Minister. Mary O’Rourke, Paul Gallagher provide personal recollections while Eamon Ryan’s contribution is more circumstantial.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution is by former Irish Finance Minister, Ray McSharry. In a chapter titled ‘The Poisoned Chalice’ McSharry says that Lenihan and Cowen saved the euro. However, they failed to use the leverage that gave them, McSharry suggests.

“Incidentally, I should add that the current Government is also under-estimating the leverage that our membership of the EU still gives Ireland. I think Ireland should be taking a tougher stance to bring about a write-off on our bank debts. We should not forget that the European Council requires unanimity to effect change in major policy areas. I think that some night that our vote is required we should insist that the price of our vote is a deal on our banking debts.”

Other contributors include Alan Ahearne Patrick Honahan, Brian Murphy, Cathy Herbert, John Mullen, Martin Mansergh, Marie Louise O’Donnell, Harmon Murtagh, John Trethowan and Jillian Van Turnhout. The introduction is by Noel Whelan.

Striking a balance for the greater good

The Appendices in this Brian Lenihan biography include Dáil tributes following Lenihan’s death. Also included is the text of Lenihan’s Michael Collins Commemorative Lecture at Beal na Bláth on 22 August 2010.

In that speech, Lenihan said “the job of Government is to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of individual groups and the greater good.” Arguably, that’s precisely where government appears to get things generally wrong by having too much regard for the great and the good, too little for the greater good.

Brian Lenihan In Calm and Crisis is edited by Brian Murphy, Mary O’Rourke and Noel Whelan and published by the Irish Academic Press, 2014. Proceeds from sales of the book go to the Irish Cancer Society.

Auster memoir continues in a Report from the Interior

Just over a year ago I reviewed Paul Auster’s Winter Journal on izzyreads.com and reflected on Auster’s ability to explore universal experience by focusing on the individual. Auster’s latest book, Report from the Interior, takes his exploration a step further by focusing on memories of his inner life from childhood, through his teens and early twenties, not because Auster believes that that he is in some way unique or exceptional but rather because he believes that he isn’t — that his experience is similar to that of every man — and therefore universal.

This raises interesting issues such as the extent to which memory is reliable and unique and how it is shaped or influenced by later remembrances.

While there is a sweetness in Auster’s recollection of childhood beliefs or the confusion and loneliness of his early twenties, this focus on the universal occasionally skirts close to the banal — but perhaps that is the point.

Report from the Interior consists of four sections:

  1. Report from the Interior which recalls childhood and adolescent memories using the second person voice;
  2. Two Blows to the Head which describes two movies that influenced Auster;
  3. Time Capsule comprising extracts from letters written by Auster to his first wife before their marriage;
  4. Album, a collection of photographs illustrating events contemporaneous with the first three sections.

Auster’s addresses the first section to his younger self using the second person — ‘you’ — as he did in the Winter Journal. Perhaps because inner thoughts are more intimate or individual than physical experience, this use of the second person is unsettling and occasionally distracting. Who is ‘you’? Auster himself? You, the reader? You, the universal man?

The second section, ‘Two Blows to the Head’, sets out descriptions of the movies The Incredible Shrinking Man and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang which are skilfully written and very visual.

Then Auster moves on to draw on emotive letters he wrote to his first wife before their marriage in the section entitled ‘Time Capsule’. This section reveals a somewhat depressed, lonely young man who is none the less developing growing confidence in his writing ability.

The book closes out with an Album of photographs drawn from various sources that illustrate the reminiscences set out in the earlier sections.

Readers who are of Auster’s generation — particularly those who were bookish children — are likely to find many resonances with their own childhood memories in Report from the Interior  

Report from the Interior is published by Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 9780805098570. [Disclosure: an advance copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review].